Emily Dickinson Biography

by Marion Phillips - January 5, 2004

emily dickinsonEmily Dickinson was one of the most talented poets of the world and it can be said that her style was almost completely original, because she lived in a tiny city, almost never left it and had very few literary influences.

Early Life

Born on December 10, 1830, Emily Elizabeth Dickinson grew up in Amherst, US, in a traditionalist and religious family. Her authoritative father was an important personality in the town, having even made part of the US House of Representatives.

Some say that Emily's preference for solitude was due to her mother's cold behavior and also due to the puritanical society in which she grew up that made her prefer to isolate herself from the world.

Although she was raised in a very religious society, later on she would question the points of Christianism and this confrotation would be a fuel to her creativity.

At a certain point in her adolescence, Emily started to withdraw from the social and religious circles that her family enjoyed and this made her severe father start to police her and censor the books she read, because he thought they were influencing her against his faith.

Emily studied in good schools, like the Amherst Academy and the South Hadley Female Seminary, where she showed a modest and shy personality. In spite of being a good student, she returned home in 1848 and that's when her isolation started.

The World Through The Window

At home, Emily Dickinson decided to adopt white as the color for her clothes and she made a tight and selected circle of friends. She refused to see people who weren't part of that circle and she left her family's house only when strictly necessary, in fact she would travel only a few times in her whole life, to Philadelphia, Washington DC and Boston.

It was in her early twenties that she started to devote herself to poetry. In the few travels she made, she met the few men who would be important influences in her life, but with whom she would have only polite friendships.

Those were the reverend Charles Wadsworth and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, which were the most important of all and Samuel Bowles and J.G. Holland, who were also her friends and supporters.

The reverend Wadsworth who was called by her as "dearest earthly friend", may have been the only love of her life and his influence on her went from the religious aspects to supporting her talent.

In 1862, at age 32, Dickinson finally decided to show her poems to someone and she searched for the advice of Higginson, who was a literary critic. She wanted to publish her poems anonymously, and although Higginson praised her poetry, he advised her not to publish them.

Probably for this reason, only 7 of her poems were published in life in local newspapers and all her other more than 1500 poems would only be known after her death.
emily dickinson's book
Then came the Civil War and it's said that it was one of the influences for the most prolific period of her life, in which she produced around 800 poems. At that time, she was quite lonely, because her main friends were away from her.

Samuel Bowles was in Europe, the reverend Wadsworth was living in San Francisco and Higginson was serving in the Union Army.

Also that was when her eye problems started to disturb her the most, which forced her to travel to Cambridge, Massachussets for treatment in 1864 and 1865. These were the last times she would leave her family's property.

Late Life

Then the darkest period of her life started in 1874, when sequentially her closest acquaintances died. In that year her father died, in 1878 it was Samuel Bowles, then in 1881 J.G. Holland also died, the reverend and her mother both died in 1882 and her nephew died in 1883 . 

Because of all these deaths, her poetry got deeper and more moody, until in 1884 she had the first attack of the illness that would kill her and she slowly stopped to write.

Dickinson spent the year of 1885 in bed in her home and died in May 1886 at the age of 56, leaving almost 2000 unpublished poems.

The only sources of inspiration for her were the Bible, classical mythology and Shakespeare, which made of her one of the few most original writers that there ever was. 

After her work was published in the early 20th century, with several revisions and corrections that deformed her style, it was finally published in 1955 as it was written in scraps of paper, by the solitary woman of Amherst.

Download all her poems now (ZIP file size: 66 KB)

If you want more information:

Emily Dickinson Page

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Copyright 2003 Marion Phillips

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